Class 9's Inventive Coders

Scattered around the room in small groupings, the Class 9 students busily typed on their laptops, pausing from time to time to confer with one another, to test a line of code, or to ask questions. The feeling was relaxed yet creative, with a near-constant hum of activity.

At the center of the classroom, the directive “Explore and Experiment” was projected on a screen in large, bold letters, followed by a set of instructions that introduced the current challenge. This day’s assignment, like the ones that came before and those that will follow in weeks to come, focused on the fundamentals of computer coding that all Class 9 students learn. After their teacher, Tao Wang, gave a brief lesson, the students were free to work independently.

“They are creating little web pages,” explained Mr. Wang, who is Head of the Upper School Technology Department and teaches the three sections of Computer 9 as well as  Computer 8, AP Computer Science and the FOCUS elective Girls Who Code. “Every week there is something new.”

A coding website called “Glitch” provides a platform that lets people easily create and host websites. With Glitch, Mr. Wang designs lessons that build upon one another, allowing the students to master one technique at a time. Adding on to the skills they learned the previous week, the girls encounter a fresh challenge each time the class meets, bolstering their confidence and curiosity.

By allowing users to “remix” existing code from already functioning apps, bots and websites, Glitch makes it easy to be innovative without the need to start from scratch.

If you like a website about dogs (Glitch offers countless samples to spark imagination) but would prefer different images, a livelier font and brighter background colors, for example, a simple adjustment to pieces of code is all it takes to revamp that website to your unique specifications.

During a recent class, one student tried her hand at remixing the code for a simple quiz to add her own text and insert a video. “We can put our own twist on it!” she exclaimed. Another two students were engrossed in re-imagining a game. Indeed, with a few coding tweaks — often achieved through trial and error — the students produced simple apps and pared-down web pages that were both functional and entertaining.

With Glitch, changes are made instantly, in real time, with no waiting while data loads. Similar to working together in Google Docs, multiple users can simultaneously edit code in Glitch, allowing seamless collaboration and idea exchange, as well as the ability to quickly detect and repair errors. This “instant gratification” was especially appealing to these novice coders who were thrilled to see their ideas come to life on their laptop screens.

Throughout the class period, the student coders experimented with various computer languages, including HTML, JavaScript and CSS. They eagerly shared their successes and stumbles with each other, fostering a collegial, non-competitive environment. Mr. Wang gave his students ample freedom to explore and invent, while supporting those who needed help.

“Tell me what you want to see happen,” Mr. Wang asked two students who were not achieving their desired outcome. He offered a few ideas to try, allowing the students to remain in creative control of their project.

“The goal of this class is to emphasize the problem-solving aspect of coding,” said Mr. Wang. As such, learning how to code is far more important than what is ultimately created, be it a game, webpage, quiz or survey. By all accounts, these Class 9 students thoroughly enjoyed this immersive approach to computer instruction.

“I love coding!” one remarked. “I’m really interested in STEAM and Robotics, and coding is related.”

“Coding is definitely something I want to pursue in the future,” added another student.

After they finished the challenge, the students submitted their work to Mr. Wang on Google Classroom. Fortified with a greater understanding of the essential and ever-evolving language of coding, these accomplished – and hungry – students headed to lunch.   

Browse photos from the class below: